The day after screening Interstellar, I found myself staring out of my office window. Rain sprayed down in a fine mist. Construction on the new JW Marriott across the street had stopped for the day. Umbrellas and boots walked back and forth on the sidewalk below. A rare gray day in the capitol of Texas.
But I couldn’t help but think about what I wasn’t seeing. What if I could unzip my office like a rain parka and discover the secrets underneath. Peek under the sidewalks to find something new. Pick a direction and drive. Strike out for something I hadn’t seen before.
That’s what Interstellar does. More than its grand spectacle, gravelly voiced Matthew McConaughey and impressive scope, Christopher Nolan’s latest epic inspires discovery. A deep dive into the very nature of who we are and the possibilities of the infinite beyond, Interstellar is the most ambitious film you’ll see in mainstream cinema this year. It’s also one of the best.
In the near future, humanity is hungry. With the Earth devolving into a giant dust bowl, humankind has turned their back on innovation in favor of basic survival. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former engineer and pilot turned farmer, is one of the precious few who dare to dream in the face of slow extinction. After stumbling upon the last remnants of NASA, Cooper learns that Planet Earth is slowly dying. Our only chance at survival is to colonize another world and they need him to be our Christopher Columbus. Now tasked with being humankind’s last hope for self preservation, Cooper is caught between leaving his family alone and vulnerable for the sake of the human race.
Much of the Interstellar buzz has been about the eye popping visuals and Nolan’s vision of a world beyond our sight never disappoints. While there are about a dozen scenes that could double as paintings, much of film is conservatively shot. It’s beautiful without being overpowering. The cinematography is grounded in realism even when we’re examining black holes and hurtling through uncharted space. The effect is stunning in how real it all feels.
Living within the frame is a cast that gets B grades all the way across. McConaughey’s stoic perseverance and down home charm lends a natural likability while Anne Hathaway is steady as Cooper’s co-pilot. Like most Nolan films, the acting is straight forward and in service to the overall themes. Aside from a pair of wisecracking robots (voiced by John Stewart and Bill Irwin) and a great turn by the always excellent Jessica Chastain, the cast turns the movie’s gears effectively and efficiently.
This is partially due to a story that begins relatively formulaic and circumstantial. Cooper just happens to find NASA who just happens to need a pilot, etc, etc. While this would be a problem in traditional dramas, the simplicity works in Interstellar’s favor. Love for family and the spirit of exploration give the cast a simple yet powerful motivation. There are no Oscar winners here, but the archetypical characters coat the brain bending science in a thick layer of easy to swallow sweetness.
And it had better ease the medicine because, around the two-thirds mark, Interstellar smacks the audience with a serious mind bang. This is real science fiction in the vein of Arthur C. Clarke and Nancy Kress. Nolan goes out of his way to challenge his audience, making the final half hour feel oddly like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Baffling, beautiful and absolutely fascinating.
Case in point: The audience I saw it with sat in relative silence as the credits rolled. A cynical person would think they didn’t get the ending. I’d like to believe they were shocked into deep thought.
All of this meat is packed into a slightly hurried package. One critic classified this as a “rushed movie that feels too long” and I halfway agree. This was clearly written to be a four hour epic. Although I’m a Hollywood realist (no studio is releasing a four hour movie), I’d love to see an extended edition on Blu-Ray. I could have sat there for another hour with no hesitation.
As director and writer, Nolan conducts this grand orchestra with a master’s baton. Every previous effort that fell just short is fully realized in this epic adventure of the human spirit. The silence is just as stunning as the score, the pacing is masterful and the final payoff is pure dynamite. It’ll bowl you over without knowing what hit you.
Every day can be the same as every other. Same route home, same four walls, same old stuff. Reaching beyond what our eyes can see is a dangerous prospect. With the finest film he’s ever produced, Christopher Nolan challenges us to look to the heavens and wonder, “what if.” Highly intelligent with a thundering human heart, Interstellar is a startling reminder of why science fiction can be so transformative. In the end, they are stories about us, who we are and what wonderful roads we can travel if we simply dare to dream.
Score – 9 out of 10
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born and New York bred, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of genres and media. He currently writes a regular movie column entitled “Behind the Cinematic Curtain” for Revolt Daily, contributes to a fashion blog for http://www.pop-market.com and has a number of short stories in various stages of publication. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. He currently hangs his hat in Austin, Texas. Check out more of his work at http://www.thesurrealityproject.com.